malcom x’s father -- 6/20/22

Today's selection -- from The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Early Little, who was Malcolm X’s father, was so rebellious that his own father counseled him to leave the South for his safety. That led him all the way to Omaha, Nebraska, which for a time ranked second only to Los Angeles in terms of Black population west of the Missouri River:
"According to relatives, Early's father, 'Pa John' -- conforming to the pattern of concerned Negro parents of the times -- advised that his 'uppity' son, for safety's sake, should gather his family and leave Georgia and, for that matter, the South. Eventually the young father did just that, departing abruptly -- although without his wife of almost ten years and their three children, Ella, Mary, and Earl Jr.

"Landing a job in Philadelphia, the restless young, carpenter­-preacher was soon exposed to the secular teaching of Marcus Garvey, whose Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) sought to uplift the race globally. Reverend Little was deeply impressed. The message of the campaigning Marcus Garvey struck Earl as just the tonic for an independent-minded Negro in search of himself. It was not so much the UNIA's global outreach to Africa that finally persuaded the young preacher as it was the group's uncompromis­ing tenet that the individual free himself from the strictures of the psyche imposed by white racist domination in America -- and that Negroes demand equal treatment across the board.

Louise and Earl Little in an undated photo

"The peripatetic Reverend Earl Little, separated from the family he had abandoned in Georgia, occasionally went to Canada to hear Marcus Garvey speak and once, when he was between jobs, sought a brief respite from U.S. racism as a UNIA camp follower. In the Commonwealth nation of Canada, the Caribbean UNIA members, as British subjects, could move about more freely. At a UNIA meet­ing during a visit to Montreal, Earl met a handsome, twenty-year-old woman from the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, Louise Helen Langdon Norton, who worked as a seamstress and housekeeper for white families.

"She had migrated to this Quebec city in 1917 with her uncle, Edgerton Langdon, who had introduced her to the teaching of Marcus Garvey. The tall, light-complexioned Louise had attended a religious school under the English system that stressed geography, mathematics, and language skills. She spoke English with a Carib­bean accent, as well as Spanish and a smattering of French. Never having known her Scottish father, Louise was raised by a stern grand­mother, Mary Jane Langdon, and aunt, Gertrude, after her unmar­ried mother, Edith, died during the birth of her third child.

"After a brief courtship, the twenty-nine-year-old separated father of three, who some relatives say never divorced his first wife, Daisy, took the younger Grenadian as his bride, in May 1919, six months after the war had ended in Europe. Soon after, the couple left Canada and settled in Philadelphia, where their first child, Wil­fred, was born on February 12, 1920. A few months later, Earl, shift­ing among several jobs, took his young family to Georgia to meet his parents and siblings. Louise was in her second pregnancy. Rela­tives noted that Earl had landed a young beauty but assumed that the neatly dressed, well-spoken, Caribbean-bride-made-American­-citizen, the product of five years of strict Anglican education, was a snob not much given to hard work. They were wrong in this assump­tion because Louise, as a youngster, had been entrusted with running the household of her grandmother and aunt. Housework, responsibility, and authority, enforced with corporal punishment, were nothing new to the West Indian mother of a growing fam­ily. When mixing it up, especially with the womenfolk, Louise was careful to concentrate her talk on what they had in common, such as housekeeping, child-rearing, and racial discrimination. And she wisely did more listening than talking.

"In short order, Louise also rolled up her sleeves and cordially dispelled all notions of sloth with thoroughgoing housework that won over her husband's family -- all except for the wife from Rever­end Little's first marriage, and her family. The Masons were under­standably livid that Early had the temerity to parade his pregnant new bride before the family he had abandoned for parts unknown. The first wife, according to their daughter Ella, threatened to stage a Daisy-Louise showdown during the family visit.

"Once again, Early's father intervened to preserve peace at home and the family's reputation downtown. Just as when the son first migrated north, Pa John feared that his son's 'uppity' rebelliousness was certain to attract local law enforcement, and possibly a visit from white vigilantes. In due course, Early and his pregnant wife and son headed back north. And when his bachelor brother James landed a job at a large meatpacking company in the Midwest, where jobs were plentiful, Earl and Louise were invited to join him in Omaha. The migration of Negroes to the city was the largest on the Great Plains at the time. With 10,315 such residents, Omaha was second only to Los Angeles, in cities west of the Missouri River, in terms of black population."



Les Payne and Tamara Payne


The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X


W.W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2020 by the Estate of Les Payne


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